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April 2004 Pic of the Month
Transportation Replicas

Rocket Locomotive

The Rocket replica shown in May 1929, shortly after its completion. Photo ID P.188.720


The Rocket locomotive has proven to be a popular subject for replication--a total of nine examples have been built since 1881. Henry Ford’s was the first of the replicas designed to run under steam.

When Henry Ford decided to tell the story of industrial progress, he began with the earliest successes of the Industrial Revolution. Finding early pumping engines was straightforward, however, compared with collecting early railroad equipment. Unlike factory steam engines, steam locomotives were out in the weather, hauling heavy loads on track that was often poorly built. This, coupled with swift developments in railroad practice, often gave those early engines a working life of no more than 15 years. The few early examples that had survived were often heavily modified and already in museum collections. Robert Stephenson’s Rocket, while not the earliest, was perhaps the most famous of these early surviving locomotives.

Originally built in 1829 for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in England, Rocket was a huge leap forward—serving as a prototype for subsequent locomotive building. After its working life was over, Rocket was stored for a number of years before eventually becoming part of London’s Science Museum collections. Henry Ford’s eagerness to represent this locomotive in his museum led him in 1928 to commission a working replica from the original builders, Robert Stephenson and Company. In May 1929 their operating replica of Rocket—designed with the help of early drawings, contemporary accounts and illustrations, and the greatly modified surviving locomotive—emerged from their North Road Works in Darlington, England. The locomotive was briefly exhibited in Liverpool for the centenary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway before being crated and shipped to Henry Ford Museum where it was displayed with Henry Ford’s other railroad artifacts.


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